Another bit of metal detecting rubbish?

7th April 2015 — 9 Comments

Capt. Grenfell

I remember a discussion on a detecting forum about an alternative name for a detectorist and one that I remembered was Serendipitist! After all, detecting is all about making fortunate discoveries by accident. it seemed a reasonable suggestion, borne out by a good example of serendipity in the following remarkable story about a piece of copper and Captain Francis Grenfell VC who died in May 1915. That’s his grave on the left. Please click to enlarge.

First, a useful piece of advice. On those days when you are unable to detect, it may well be useful to take a second look in the box where you have thrown all your ‘scrap’. Steve Pulley did this recently and was pleasantly surprised. He found one or two interesting fragments, but nothing really special . . . until he happened upon a dirty soil encrusted 2 cm square of copper alloy with a piece of what looked like old leather projecting from it.

Grenfell copy

© Steve Pulley

On close examination, Steve could see some writing. Being very careful and without excessive cleaning, he made further investigation and was able to read, quite clearly, what it said: Capt F O Grenfell 9th Lancers Tidworth. Now this was clearly of military origin and he thought possibly the labelling from a horse harness. Steve was determined to find out more!


Captain Grenfell – Wikimedia CC Licence

That night the small piece of dirty artefact really took on greater significance when he entered the name on the internet. It turned out, no less, that Captain Francis Octavius Grenfell was one of the most celebrated heroes of the Great War. He was, for example, the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross for showing great gallantry when opposed to infantry and for helping to withdrew to safety the guns of the 119th Battery Royal Field Artillery, on the same day.

Further investigations confirmed that the scruffy piece of metal had, indeed, belonged to a hero. Tidworth in Northamptonshire was the second largest military garrison in the country and research shows that the 9th Lancers were stationed there before going to war.  Steve said: I found the piece near a barracks in Northamptonshire and I guess the Captain was on his way to war when it was lost. What a significant find from a scrap box!

Mike Galer, Senior Keeper of Military and Social History at Derby Museums and Art Gallery has taken a keen interest in the find. They happen to have a special 9th Lancers display featuring Captain Grenfell, complete with his Victoria Cross. Mike was able to confirm from records that the Lancers were at Tidworth from December 1912 to August 1914. He also told us that Captain Grenfell’s twin brother, Riverdale, was also killed in the Great War. Unusual names! The Captain had seven brothers and he was the eighth son – hence Octavius!

Mike had a notion that Steve’s find was originally on a tag on a piece of high-quality equipment such as a saddle or maybe a trunk or similar non-standard private purchase item. He hadn’t seen anything like it before and they had nothing similar in the museum. He was adamant that is wasn’t standard army issue. He wondered if there might be a maker’s mark on the back. Could the artefact be a stirrup slip? You can see one of these in situ in the picture of the horse shown below. It’s interesting to note that Captain Grenfell probably took part in the last Cavalry attack before tanks were introduced.


The piece of ‘rubbish’ showing how it was used – Courtesy of the The Prince Albert’s Own Yeomanry

Steve, a detectorist of over 30 years and a member of the Northampton Detecting Association, hasn’t yet decided what to do with his rather special find, but reckons it will ultimately end up in the museum. The Keeper of the museum said that he would like to display it alongside Captain Grenfell’s Victoria Cross.

CLICK >>>   From the Daily Express August 24, 2014   <<< CLICK


© Derby Museum


Showing Captain Grenfell’s VC …

I found this a heartening story and it shows how we should check EVERY item very carefully before pronouncing it as hedge fodder. And it is something that Steve does. Nothing is thrown away until it has been examined very carefully . . . then serendipity! A super find emerges when you were least expecting it!

Unlike the finest Celtic stater, Saxon sceat or hammered silver, this find has a context AND that’s what makes it so interesting! We know who owned it and when it was lost. We can also deduce that Captain Grenfell wore this artefact before being awarded his medal. What we don’t know is how he came to lose it.  JW

The blog post above has been resurrected and updated from one originally made in 2012 …



Descendants of Captain Grenfell attended a ceremony to unveil a commemorative paving stone in Guildford town centre on Sunday August 24, 100 years to the day after his brave actions which led to his military honour. He was killed in action at Hooge in the Ypres salient on May 24 1915 at the age of 34.


Captain Francis Grenfell’s commemorative paving stone – Click to enlarge – Picture courtesy of getSurrey


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9 responses to Another bit of metal detecting rubbish?

  1. Another great story John.

  2. Joseph from Oregon 7th April 2015 at 11:49 PM

    Thank you John, for reminding me to look through that box of recent finds that I have yet to clean and sort.

  3. peter walsh aka G.clooney 8th April 2015 at 2:08 PM

    one of the best articals so far ,well done on shareing it with us ,

  4. Another very interesting read thanks John.

    Anyone awarded the VC quickly draws my attention.

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